Feminist video game critic Anita Sarkeesian has debuted the first video in her new series, Positive Female Characters, where she examines examples of video games getting feminism right.
This premiere episode focuses on the player character in Capybara Games' 2011 adventure Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, a game we rather liked.
"This episode examines how Sword & Sworcery employs widely recognisable action adventure game tropes to make the Scythian's quest feel like the stuff of video game legend, and how in doing so, it asserts that women can fill the role of the mythic hero as effectively as men can," stated Sarkeesian in her video description.
"The level of detail is so low in our pixelated protagonist, and our tendency to assume the heroes are male by default is so widely reinforced, that some players have made the mistake of assuming the Scythian is male, at least initially," Sarkeesian said. "Thankfully, the game doesn't resort to clear gender signifiers like a pink outfit or a pretty bow in her hair, nor does it present her gender as some sort of surprise twist like we see in the original Metroid. In both visual design and writing, Sword & Sworcery is subtle about asserting the Scythian's gender."
It's not until you've completed the game's first chapter that it's made clear the Scythian is a woman. This is confirmed when you're able to read the thoughts of other characters who refer to her with female pronouns.
"It's rare for these heroes of myth to be women," Sarkeesian noted. And while a burdened character on a "woeful quest", the game presents the Scythian's journey as one of healing, not conquering. "The game is primarily concerned not with combat or killing, but with the natural beauty of the world the Scythian is trying to protect," Sarkeesian explained. In fact, most of the game is centered around puzzles that require close observation of the rather wondrous world it's set in.
The final third of the video goes into spoiler territory for Sword & Sworcery's glorious ending, so I'll leave you to watch the episode for Sarkeesian's take on the conclusion.
"We do need more women-centric stories of all kinds," Sarkeesian concluded. "When archetypal fantasy heroes in games are overwhelmingly portrayed as men, it reinforces the idea that men's experiences are universal and that women's experiences are gendered. That women should be able to empathise with male characters, but that men needn't be able to identify with women's stories. Sword & Sworcery gives us a female protagonist and encourages us to see her as a hero first and foremost. One who also just happens to be a woman."
It's worth noting that the intro video to the Positive Female Characters series shows us snippets of The Last of Us: Left Behind, Beyond Good & Evil, Portal 2, Mirror's Edge, Never Alone and more, suggesting that we may see critiques on these titles as well. In fact, Beyond Good & Evil's Jade is outright teased for the next episode during the end credits.